2021’s biggest moments in sports: Racism, mental health and smashing records

Despite the coronavirus and the restrictions that came with it, sport continued in 2021. It delivered its thrills and spills and served to take our minds off the fact that life was happening under some very strange circumstances.

2021 FIA Formula One World Champion Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium of the Yas Marina Circuit after the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix on 12 December 2021. Picture: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP

CAPE TOWN/JOHANNESBURG - Despite the coronavirus and the restrictions that came with it, sport continued in 2021. It delivered its thrills and spills and served to take our minds off the fact that life was happening under some very strange circumstances.

Eyewitness News looks back at the sporting year for 2021.

FOOTBALL

While the European football scene saw the return of fans to stadiums, the South African fans had to wait until October to be able to watch football in person again when the men's national team Bafana Bafana took on Ethiopia in a World Cup qualifier and then only in limited numbers. The DStv Premiership though continued to play without fans.

Mamelodi Sundowns eased to a fourth straight league title, losing just one match in their 2020/2021 campaign.

AmaZulu finished second, 13 points back and Orlando Pirates ended in third. Soweto giant Kaizer Chiefs struggled throughout the season as they finished in eighth place. Coach Gavin Hunt, who was appointed at the start of the season, didn't make it to the end of the season as he was fired just a few days before the season ended. While the side struggled domestically, Chiefs did make it to the CAF Champions League final, their first one, only to lose 3-0 to the Pitso Mosimane-coached Al Ahly.

For the 2021/2022 season, Kaizer Chiefs re-appointed Stuart Baxter as manager and the side almost immediately saw an upswing in fortunes on the field. Fierce rivals Orlando Pirates saw head coach Josef Zinnbauer resign just days before the start of the new season after the side lost to Swallows at the quarterfinal stage of the MTN8 tournament, which was eventually won by Sundowns. Pirates have not filled the head coach position, relying on the two assistant coaches Fadlu Davids and Mandla Ncikazi to get the results. Second division side Royal AM bought the premiership status of Bloemfontein Celtic and then moved the team to Pietermaritzburg but kept their own name.

Gavin Hunt landed the head coaching job at Chippa United but he was sacked in November. With the league halting for the mid-season break, Mamelodi Sundowns are again top of the table, leading Orlando Pirates by 14 points. Stellenbosch FC, Kaizer Chiefs and AmaZulu round out the top five.

BAFANA KEEP FAILING
Bafana Bafana had a year to forget after again failing to qualify for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2022 World Cup. The first failure cost Molefi Ntseki his job and he was replaced by Belgian Hugo Broos in May. Broos led Cameroon to Afcon glory in 2017. The Belgian saw his reign off to a good start with a 3-2 win over Uganda in a friendly, with his assistant Helman Mkhalele calling the shots from the dugout. The next assignment for the national team was the Cosafa Cup, which the virtual third-string side won after a penalty shootout against Senegal. At the Olympics, South Africa also had a forgetful tournament, losing all three of their matches.

September saw the start of World Cup qualification and Bafana Bafana got their campaign off positively, with a 0-0 draw against Zimbabwe. This was followed up with a 1-0 home victory over Ghana and then back-to-back wins over Ethiopia. It looked like South Africa were finally getting their act together as they beat Zimbabwe in their penultimate qualifier. Ghana away was the only obstacle to the side progressing to the next round of qualifiers, with the visitors needing to avoid defeat to progress. But defeated they were as Ghana converted a controversial penalty to advance to the next round. South Africa protested to Fifa over the penalty but the bid was thrown out on a technicality.

Banyana Banyana had a mixed year as the side failed to defend their Cosafa Cup title. They were upset by Malawi in the semifinal while Tanzania went on to win the competition. Banyana Banayana though did win the inaugural Aisha Buhari Cup when they beat hosts Nigeria 4-2 in a thrilling encounter.

In Europe, there was change a plenty in 2021. Manchester City were crowned champions for the 2020/2021 season after Liverpool's defence derailed spectacularly between January and February. They rallied to claim third place ahead of Chelsea. Manchester United finished second. Leicester City won the FA Cup, beating Chelsea 1-0 while Manchester City beat Tottenham 1-0 in the English League Cup final.

In Europe, Chelsea completed an amazing turnaround under Thomas Tuchel as they beat Manchester City 1-0 in the Champions League final. Tuchel had taken over at Chelsea after Frank Lampard was sacked in January. Villarreal beat Manchester United 11-10 on penalties to lift the Europa League trophy.

Atletico Madrid were crowned champions in Spain, Bayern Munich won the title in Germany, Lille in France and Inter Milan in Italy.

The lull between seasons was filled by the European Championship. Delayed by a year because of the COVID pandemic, the tournament was played across 11 countries. Italy were crowned the champions of Europe after they beat England 3-2 on penalties. Denmark were the surprise package of the tournament as they reached the semifinals, losing to England. The Danes were able to ride the emotional wave of near raggedy after midfielder Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed in the team's opening game against Finland. He survived but had to have a pacemaker fitted.

The start of the new season brought some shocks as Lionel Messi unthinkably left Barcelona to join PSG and Cristiano Ronaldo terminated his contract with Juventus and returned to Manchester United. PSG also snapped up Real Madrid legend Sergio Ramos and Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum after his Liverpool contract ran out. Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti switched from Everton to manage Real Madrid again while Newcastle United were taken over by a consortium driven by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund.

Once the various leagues got under way, there were the usual managerial casualties - Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was fired by Manchester United after a string of poor performances including a 5-0 defeat to Liverpool. Solskjaer was replaced by Ralf Rangnick. Tottenham sacked Nuno Espirito Santo and replaced him with former Italy, Juventus, Inter Milan and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte while former Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard made a return to the English Premier League as Aston Villa manager after Dean Smith was fired. Smith joined relegation battling Norwich after Daniel Farke was fired. Eddie Howe was appointed the manager of cash-rich Newcastle after the departure of Steve Bruce.

Over in Spain, Barcelona fired Ronald Koeman after a poor run of games that included defeat to Real Madrid in the Clasico. Club legend Xavi was installed as manager while the side battled financial woes and the sudden fall from grace as a top side. Barcelona's woes were compounded when Sergio Aguero was forced to retire from football due to heart problems. He had signed for Barcelona after leaving Manchester City at the end of the 2020/21 season but was hospitalised with breathing problems after a match at home to Alaves in October. He was then diagnosed with a heart problem and announced his retirement in December.

Other notable news from the footballing year saw Fifa propose a biennial World Cup. The proposal has been widely rejected but that hasn't stopped the world governing body from trying to make it a reality. Europe also narrowly avoided the formation of a breakaway league in April when 12 clubs - Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Atletico Madrid, AC Milan and Inter Milan - announced that they had formed the European Super League. Following a backlash from other clubs and fans, nine of the clubs backed down but the trio of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus have refused to concede defeat on the matter.

Uefa were also left red-faced at the recent Champions League last 16 draw when it was forced to redo it after a technical problem.

RUGBY

South Africa's rugby year had a distinct international flavour to it in 2021. Thanks to the coronavirus, all Currie Cup, franchise and Springbok games were played behind closed doors. After the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa, the Springboks headed overseas as COVID quarantine protocols meant being on the road for longer. COVID also saw South African franchises looking to Europe for game time as the Super Rugby series splintered into regional tournaments.

The year started with the Blue Bulls winning the first of their two calendar Currie Cup titles. They beat the Sharks 26-19 at Loftus for their first title in 12 years.

In February, Springbok captain Siya Kolisi announced that he was leaving the Stormers after 11 years. It later emerged that he had signed for the Sharks.

In May, the franchise sides of the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and the Lions set their sights set on Europe as they geared up to join the Pro14 in a tournament named the Rainbow Cup. COVID restrictions though saw the tournament split into two - Europe and South Africa - after the local sides were not allowed to enter England and Ireland. The local sides played six rounds, with the Bulls ending top of the log. The Stormers were runner-up followed by the Sharks and the Lions. As the top side, the Bulls set up a final showdown with Italian side Benetton. The Italians went on to win the final 35-8.

South Africa then switched focus to the incoming British & Irish Lions tour. This would be the Springboks' first outing since winning the World Cup in 2019. The three-match series was played at Newlands behind closed doors. The visitors edged the Boks 22-17 in the first match but were then outclassed in the second match as the Boks won 27-9. The decider was epic, with Bok veteran Morne Steyn slotting a late penalty to seal the series for the world champions. It was the second time that Steyn sealed a series win for the Boks against the Lions, the first coming in 2009.

The 2021 Currie Cup season also got underway in June, with the Bulls ultimately proving to be the victors as they crushed the Sharks 44-10 in their September final.

At the Olympics, the Blitzboks had a chance to shine as they looked to improve on their bronze medal from the 2016 Rio Games. After cruising through the pool games, the Blitzboks came unstuck against Argentina in their quarterfinal match. They had to settle for a fifth-place finish after beating the USA. Fiji beat New Zealand for gold and Argentina beat Great Britain for bronze.

There was some measure of redemption for Blitzboks as they ended the HSBC Sevens Series as the number one side for the year after they won the Dubai Sevens tournament, their fourth consecutive tournament win for the year.

After the highs of the Lions series, the Springboks were primed for the Rugby Championship, which would be played in Australia due to the pandemic. South Africa easily beat Argentina in back-to-back games but then slipped to a 26-28 defeat against Australia, who had suffered two humiliating defeats to New Zealand. The Boks' second game against the Wallabies also ended in a 30-17 defeat and the concern deepened when the Boks fell to a third successive defeat against the All Blacks, losing 19-17. With the alarm bells ringing, the Boks went into their final Rugby Championship game against New Zealand under pressure. In a tough encounter, the Boks edged the All Blacks 31-29.

The Boks and the South African franchise sides would next set their sights on Europe - the franchise sides would compete in the United Rugby Championship (URC) with the Pro14 sides. The Boks would be on their end-of-year tour with matches against Wales, Scotland and England in the Autumn Nations Series. The Boks beat Wales in Cardiff, thumped Scotland at Murrayfield and then were edged by England at Twickenham.

In the URC, the South Africans were finding out that life in Europe was tough. All the South African sides are sitting in the lower half of the 16-team table, with the Lions the best placed in 10th. Their participation in the URC was curtailed after the detection of the Omicron COVID variant. The European URC sides that were in South Africa at the time high-tailed out of the country as South Africa was again put on the UK's red travel list.

In other notable rugby news from 2021, Wales were crowned Six Nations champions, France's Antoine Dupont was named the World Rugby Player of the Year, four Springboks made the World Rugby Dream Team - Malcolm Marx, Eben Etzebeth, Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am and Springbok director of rugby Rassie Erasmus copped a two-month ban after he was found guilty of misconduct for a video in which he criticised the refereeing in the Boks' first Test defeat to the Lions.

CRICKET

South African cricket fans had precious little to shout about this year, other than maybe shouting and swearing at poor performances and off-field distractions. COVID restrictions meant that when the Proteas did play at home, it was behind closed doors, with no supporters. The year also saw the appointment of two new captains, with Dean Elgar taking charge of the Test side and Temba Bavuma taking charge of both the ODI and the T20 sides, becoming the country's first black captain.

The Proteas got the year off to a winning start, taking the two-Test series against the visiting Sri Lankans 2-0. The Proteas then went to Pakistan for a first tour in 12 years. The tourists struggled with the bat and lost the Test series 2-0. The T20 series was a closer contest with the home side emerging victorious. Pakistan then visited South Africa in April for a one-day international and T20 series as both sides began preparations for the T20 World Cup. Disappointingly, Pakistan had the better of the hosts in both formats as they racked up another series win against the Proteas.

The Proteas didn't see action again until June when they played the West Indies in a Test and T20 series. South Africa comfortably outclassed the Windies in the Tests but had a tougher time of it in the T20s. The tourists clinched the series 3-2.

Then it was off to Ireland for another ODI and T20 series as the preparations for the T20 World Cup ratcheted up a notch. The hosts managed to a historic first win over the Proteas in the ODI series but the visitors took an emphatic win in the T20 series.

South Africa had one more series before October's T20 World Cup in Dubai. Playing Sri Lanka, the Proteas lost the ODI series but bounced back with a 3-0 win in the T20 series.

Going into the tournament, South Africa had an outside chance of making the knockout after being grouped with Australia, England, the West Indies, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. After losing the opener to Australia, the Proteas managed wins against the rest of the group. The final match against England was a crucial one as South Africa needed to beat England and have a better net run-rate to progress to the semifinals. South Africa won the match but could not better the run rate.

While South Africa did not quite set the tournament alight on the field, off the field, they will be remembered for Quinton de Kock's embarrassing refusal to take the knee, an anti-racism gesture, before the match against the West Indies. He then made himself unavailable for the match over the issue. The move came 24 hours after Cricket South Africa ordered all the players to take part in the gesture. The order was meant to present a unified approach after images emerged of some players kneeling and others standing ahead of the game against Australia. De Kock's refusal sparked accusations of racism from some sections of the South African society as well as deep soul searching over the country's past and whether cricket in South Africa had transformed. De Kock later issued an apology, saying that he was "deeply sorry for all the hurt, confusion and anger" he had caused.

Meanwhile back home, the Social Justice and Nation Building Commission was compiling its report into allegations of racial discrimination in South African cricket. The report was released in mid-December and found that former captain and now director of cricket, Graeme Smith, Proteas head coach, Mark Boucher and another former captain and legend AB de Villiers had all engaged in racially prejudiced conduct. Boucher and Smith, who rejected the findings, will face hearings into the allegations.

In England, accusations of racism captured the public's attention when former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq detailed incidents of bullying and racial harassment while playing for the county side. The revelations saw sponsors withdraw, top administrators resign, a coach suspended and the side being barred from hosting international matches. Former England cricketer Michael Vaughan was dropped by the BBC's commentary panel for the Ashes over allegations that he had made racist comments to a former Yorkshire teammate.

Back on the pitch, New Zealand beat India in the inaugural World Test Championship final in a rain-hit match at Southampton in June. The Black Caps also made the final of the T20 World Cup but were outplayed by Australia as they clinched an eight-wicket win and a first T20 World Cup title.

In the Indian Premier League, South African veteran Faf du Plessis starred as he helped the Chennai Super Kings to a fourth title with victory over the Kolkata Knight Riders.

The Dolphins and the Lions shared the spoils in the Momentum One Day Cup after rain ensured that no play was possible for the final and the reserve day. The Mzansi Super League was again cancelled due to COVID and the Lions topped the 4-Day Series table after four matches.

Other notable cricket moments saw South Africa's De Villiers retire from all forms of cricket in November, while Virat Kohli was axed as India's ODI and T20 captain in wake of the side's poor T20 World Cup performance. The side failed to final four and lost to fierce neighbour Pakistan at the T20 World Cup. The Netherlands' first tour
of South Africa was also cut short after the host nation's announcement that it had detected the Omicron variant.

Australia also retained the Ashes after taking an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-match Test series.

OLYMPICS

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will always be remembered for taking place a year later than initially planned due to COVID-19.

The Games added new sporting codes such as karate, skateboarding, sports climbing, and surfing. Baseball/softball made its appearance again after missing out in the previous two editions.

The Olympics were held with COVID-19 induced restrictions from 23 July to 8 August and all the events were played behind closed doors.

And while a lot of countries took home bags of medals it was a disappointing showing as only two South Africans managed to bring home medals.

Team South Africa's three medals came from two debutante athletes - Tatjana Schoenmaker and Bianca Buitendag.

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, South Africa bagged a record-leveling 10 medals and the prospects of a similar medal haul looked promising for the Tokyo Games.

But it was always going to be hard for Team SA after Caster Semenya was banned from competing in her favoured 800m due to World Atheltics' testosterone regulations, while Wayde van Niekerk was returning from injury and Luvo Manyonga was banned for failing to make himself available for drug testing three times in a 12-month period.

MENTAL HEALTH AND COME BACK QUEENS

USA's great gymnast Simone Biles created headlines all the world over when she prioritised mental health over medals at the Olympics.

The athlete withdrew from a couple of gymnastics events as she was dealing with the "twisties", a mental block that can be life-threatening in this sport.

That was a standout moment that sent a positive message across sports that mental health is important and should not be taken lightly.

Meanwhile, Allyson Felix won her 11th Olympics medal, which is the most won by a track and field athlete in the history of the Games.

Felix overtook Carl Lewis as the USA's most decorated track and field athlete in Olympic history.

In her fifth Games, the 35-year-old has taken her tally to 11 medals, leaving her as the most decorated woman in Olympic track and field history, and with more athletics medals than any other American.

A moment that brought sports lovers around the world to tears was when high jumpers Mutaz Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi of Qatar and Italy decided to share the gold medal, making it one of the most memorable moments at the Tokyo Olympics 2020.

Until Tokyo, there had not been a shared Olympic track and field gold medal since 1912.

Other standout moments included Karsten Warholm smashing the 400m hurdles world record on his way to gold in the event. Lamont Marcell Jacobs surprised the world when he won the 100m Olympic title and Kenya's Eliud Chipchoge defended his Olympic marathon title.

FIRST-TIMERS AND MAKING A STATEMENT

Jennifer Valente earned America its first-ever gold medal in women's track cycling. The country has won silver or bronze seven times before in the sport - they can now check off a gold medal.

Team USA also managed to win the county's first women's gold in volleyball.

In another historic moment, Canadian soccer player Quinn became the first openly transgender and nonbinary athlete to win Olympic gold when the Canadian women’s soccer team beat Sweden in the final.

Tamyra Mensah-Stock became the first Black American woman and the second American woman ever to win gold in wrestling.

Eighteen-year-old gymnast Sunisa Lee left her first Olympics with all three medals: gold for her performance in the all-around, silver for the team competition, and bronze for the uneven bars.

Final Medal Table

  1. United States: 39 gold, 113 total

  2. China: 38 gold, 88 total

  3. Japan: 27 gold, 58 total

  4. Great Britain: 22 gold, 65 total

  5. ROC: 20 gold, 71 total

  6. Australia: 17 gold, 46 total

  7. Italy: 10 gold, 40 total

  8. Germany: 10 gold, 37 total

  9. Netherlands: 10 gold, 36 total

  10. France: 10 gold, 33 total

52. South Africa: 1 gold, 2 silver

PARALYMPICS

The sporting year leading to the postponed Paralympics was filled with uncertainty, with athletes unsure whether the Paralympics would go ahead in Tokyo after being postponed in 2020 due to COVID-19. South Africa finally sent 34 athletes to compete in seven sporting codes at the Paralympics - athletics, archery, cycling, equestrian, swimming, table tennis and wheelchair tennis.

Team South Africa ended the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo with seven medals, putting them 34th on the medal standings.

Among the 34 athletes to represent South Africa was Ntombizanele "Zanele" Situ - who at 50-years-old was the oldest member of Team SA

This was her sixth Paralympic Games, and she’s a four-time medallist – two golds in the javelin in 2000 and 2004, silver in the discus in 2000 and bronze in the javelin in 2016.

Situ is also the first black South African to win Paralympic gold at the 2000 Sydney Games and is a two-time world javelin champion.

READ: At 50, veteran Paralympian Zanele Situ not ready to call time on athletics

AMAZING MOMENTS FROM THE PARALYMPICS

The first-ever Refugee Paralympic Team made it's debut at the Paralympics with six athletes representing approximately 82 million refugees worldwide.

The athletes included three Syrian refugees: Ibrahim Al Hussein competing in Para swimming, Alia Issa competing in the club throw (also the first woman to compete on the team), and Anas Al Khalifa competing in Para canoe.

The team also included Parfait Hakizimana, a Burundian refugee competing in Para taekwondo, Abbas Karimi, an Afghan refugee competing in Para swimming, and Shahrad Nasajpour, an Iranian refugee competing in discus.

While two of the athletes did compete in 2016 (Ibrahim Al Hussein and Shahrad Nasajpour), they competed as individuals and not on a coordinated team.

Team India upped their game and bettered their performance by taking 19 medals home; this was India's highest tally in history.

Shooter Avani Lekhara won two medals herself, a gold and bronze. There were five gold medals, eight silver and six bronze.

Meanwhile, the Afghan flag was carried with no athletes behind it at the opening ceremony. However, due to support from the international community, athletes Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli were able to make it out of Afghanistan and compete in the Games.

The youngest athlete, Husnah Kukundakwe, a Ugandan swimmer, made her debut at just 14-years-old.

AGE AIN'T NOTHING BUT A NUMBER AND LOVE WINS MEDALS

Franc Pinter from Slovenia, competed for the eighth time at the age of 67 having made his international debut at the 1992 Barcelona Paralympic Games.

And love being on the track, Keula Nidreia Pereira Semedo, a runner from Cape Verde, and her guide, Manuel Antonio Vaz da Veiga, got engaged right after the women's T11 200m heats.

Husband and wife Neil and Lora Fachie of Great Britain each secured Paralympic track cycling golds on the final day of competition at the Izu Velodrome.

Having competed at the Paralympics when she was 12, Team USA swimmer Jessica Long won her 27th medal at the Games.

And sometimes it ends in tears of regret as Malaysian shot putter Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli won a gold medal in shot put but was later disqualified because he was three minutes late to the event.

MAKING HISTORY AND WORLD RECORDS

Vanessa Low of Australia broke three back-to-back records in long jump and Sumit Antil broke his own world record in javelin throw and set a new record three times.

Morteza Mehrzad competed for Iran's sitting volleyball team. He stands at 8'1", making him the tallest Paralympian in history and the second tallest man on Earth.

Meanwhile, Para taekwondo made its debut with Peru's Leonor Espinoza Carranza as its first gold medal winner and Turkey's Meryem Cadvar as the silver medal winner.

And lastly, Morocco's blind football team was the first team from Africa to ever make it to the semifinals.

FORMULA ONE

The 2021 Formula 1 season proved to be one of the best in recent years as the battle for the driver's title went down to the very final lap of the season. Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Red Bull Racing Honda's Dutch driver Max Verstappen literally went wheel-to-wheel in their title battle, which at times got tetchy, petulant and ugly, but produced some breathtaking racing.

Serving up more twists and turns than a street circuit, the title fight saw Hamilton overcome a 32-point deficit to go into the final race level on points with Verstappen.

Hamilton, who was seeking a record eighth driver's title, was overtaken on the final lap by Verstappen after the race was brought under safety car conditions following a crash by Nicholas Latifi a few laps before. Up to that point, Hamilton had been in control of the race, having led from the start but the safety car allowed Verstappen to pit for fresh tyres and when the safety car was called in for the final lap, Verstappen was able to power past Hamilton to win the race and his first world title. Mercedes protested but in vain - Verstappen's win stands.

During the course of the season, Hamilton and Verstappen would tangle on more than one occasion - at Imola, Verstappen forced Hamilton into evasive action at the first corner to take the lead, resulting in a damaged front wing. At Silverstone, a first-lap battle for the lead saw the two come together, with Verstappen ending up in the tyre wall in a high-speed crash. Hamilton went on to win the race despite earning a 10-second penalty. At Monza, the two came together as neither yielded for a corner. Verstappen ended up on top of Hamilton's car, with neither driver scoring any points. In the penultimate race of the season in Jeddah, Verstappen was penalised for an illegal manouevre and ordered to let Hamilton overtake him but the Briton ran into the back of him. Luckily no damage was caused and Hamilton went on to win the race. The Dutchman was given a five-second penalty over the incident. Hamilton's win saw the two drivers go into the final race of the season level on points.

While Verstappen won the driver's title, Hamilton finished as the runner-up and his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in a distant third. Mercedes though did win an eighth straight constructor's title, with Red Bull Racing Honda the runner-up and Ferrari in third.

Verstappen's teammate, Sergio Perez secured his second career GP win when he won in Azerbaijan while Esteban Ocon picked up his maiden GP victory in Hungary.

The season was also the last for former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, who after 20 years, ended his F1 career at the penultimate race in Jeddah.

The sport also saw the loss of former Williams team principal, Frank Williams, who died in November at the age of 79.

MOTOGP

A new MotoGP champion was crowned but a legend also departed. Yamaha rider Fabio Quartararo wrapped up the title with two races to go when rival Francesco Bagnaia of Ducati fell while leading the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix. Bagnaia ended the season as runner-up, 22 points behind Quartararo, while 2020 world champion, Joan Mir of Suzuki, ended the season in third, 70 points behind Quartararo.

The season also proved to be the last for the legendary Valentino Rossi, who retired after 26 years of racing. The 42-year-old Italian, who has nine world titles across multiple categories, finished tenth in his final outing in Valencia.

The season also saw the return of six-time world champion Marc Marquez, who missed the entire 2020 season and the first few races of 2021 due to a serious arm injury he sustained in a race crash. He managed four podium finishes from his 14 starts but saw his season cut short after a training crash caused the return of diplopia or double vision, causing him to miss the final two races of the season. He finished the season in seventh.

South Africa's Brad Binder could only manage one podium finish this season, a win in Austria, but was consistent enough to improve on his overall ranking, ending the season in sixth place. Last season, he was 11th.

TENNIS

There were a number of big questions hanging over the start of tennis' first Grand Slam of the season, the Australian Open. Would Serena Williams finally equal Margaret Court's all-time record for most Grand Slam singles titles? Would Roger Federer return to competitive tennis after his knee surgeries in 2020? Would the young guns step up and oust Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic? Who would be crowned Olympic champion? Despite the coronavirus, it looked like tennis fans would be in for a bumper year of action and it lived up to it and more.

The Australian Open saw Djokovic pick up his 18th Grand Slam title as he defeated Daniil Medvedev in the final. Nadal's quarterfinal exit at the hands of Stefanos Tsitsipas opened up the possibility of a new name being added to the champions' list but Djokovic proved that he was still the man to beat in Melbourne.

Naomi Osaka got her year off to a flying start as she defeated Jennifer Brady in the women's final for her second Australian Open title, knocking Williams out in their semifinal clash.

Federer made his return from injury at the Qatar Open in March as he looked to get a run of games in before the French Open, Wimbledon and the Olympics. He made it to the quarterfinals where he was dumped out by Nikoloz Basilashvili.

The French Open looked like it would serve up a three-way fight for the men's title as the Big Three of Nadal, Federer and Djokovic were all playing. But drama ensued off the court when Naomi Osaka announced that she would not be doing press conferences. She said she felt that the post-match conferences were akin to "kicking people when they are down" and that they affected her mental health. She then withdrew from the tournament "for her own well-being" after she was fined for not doing the mandatory press conference after her first-round win and threatened with disqualification. The topic of mental health was one that surfaced continuously through the sporting year as more athletes revealed their struggles with depression and their own mental health issues.

Back on the court, Williams was defeated in the last 16 by Elena Rybakina while Federer withdraw to protect his body from injury. With top seeds Williams, Osaka and Ashleigh Barty out of the tournament, this paved the way for a new name on the trophy. The final was contested between Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Barbora Krejčíková, with Krejčíková winning her first Grand Slam title.

Novak Djokovic defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final.

Wimbledon was hit by the withdrawals of Nadal and Osaka. Nadal, who also withdrew from the Olympics, said that he wanted to prolong his career, while Osaka took time away for the court following her revelations of her battles with depression. She, though, confirmed her participation in the Olympics in her home country of Japan.

On the court, Federer fell in the quarterfinals to Hubert Hurkacz. Djokovic was again supreme as he defeated Matteo Berrettini in the final. The Serb was now level on 20 Grand Slam titles with Nadal and Federer and was looking good to complete the Golden Slam with the Olympics and the US Open still to come.

In the women's draw, Williams was forced out in the first round with an injury, while her 41-year-old sister Venus, herself a five-time Wimbledon singles champion, exited in the second round. The final was contested by Ashleigh Barty and Karolina Pliskova, with Barty emerging victorious.

The tournament was also a notable one for South Africa, with wheelchair tennis player Kgothatso Montjane making both the singles and doubles finals.

The Tokyo Olympics went ahead under coronavirus restrictions, with no spectators allowed at any of the events. With Nadal and Federer absent, it looked like Djokovic was the favourite for the gold medal and with his form in the previous three Slams, it seemed like it would be a procession. But the end result proved that the Olympics brought out the best in one's opponents as Djokovic fell in the semifinal to eventual gold medallist Alexander Zverev of Germany. Russia's Karen Khachanov picked up the silver and Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta the bronze.

In the women's draw, Belinda Bencic beat Marketa Vondrousova for the gold medal with Elina Svitolina picking up the bronze. Osaka, who was playing on home soil, crashed out in the last 16.

In the final Grand Slam of the year, the US Open, Djokovic was looking to move ahead of his rival Nadal and Federer with his 21st Grand Slam title and a first calendar Grand Slam. The odds of doing that were in his favour as neither were competing. The Serbian made it to the final only to be defeated by Daniil Medvedev. South Africa's Lloyd Harris enjoyed a run to the quarterfinal where he was beaten by Alexander Zverev.

Britain's Emma Raducanu beat Leylah Fernandez for her first Grand Slam title.

After a stellar season, Djokovic ended the season as the top-ranked men's player with Ashleigh Barty the number one women's player for the year.

GOLF

The sporting world was rocked by the news that Tiger Woods had been hospitalised with career-threatening leg injuries after he crashed his car in February. Woods needed surgery and made his return to the golf course in December.

Hideki Matsuyama became the first Japanese golfer to win a major tournament when he won the Masters at Augusta.

Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship, becoming the oldest player to win a major championship at the age of 50.

Spain's John Rahm claimed his first major title when he won the US Open at Torrey Pines.

Collin Morikawa bagged his second major title when he won the Open Championship at Royal St George's in England.

South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen seemed to be the unlucky one at the majors, finishing in the top 5 at three of the tournaments. Compatriot Dylan Frittelli also put in a good showing at the Open, finishing in fifth behind Oosthuizen.

At the Olympics, the USA's Xander Schauffele picked up the gold medal, with South African-born Rory Sabbatini claiming the silver medal for Slovakia. C.T. Pan of the Chinese Taipei won the bronze medal.

Rahm finished the season as the top-ranked golfer, going one better than 2020. Morikawa was ranked at number 2 and Dustin Johnson at 3. Oosthuizen was the best-ranked South African at number 10.